o the sputtering fury of a
Bush administration who has repeatedly conspired with
Venezuela’s elite to drive Hugo Chavez from power, the Black
Indian President of this oil-rich nation has scored a decisive
59% victory over a recall effort.
Chavez now sits more
comfortably than ever atop a fourth of the world oil
supplies—equal to that of Iraq—and he supplies a fifth of US oil
needs. In addition, he is current leader of the Organization of
Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC. George W. Bush would
prefer his friends in Saudi Arabia rather than Chavez set global
US attacks on Chavez
caricature him as a tyrant in the class of Saddam Hussein, or a
Marxist, or a ferociously anti-American clone of Castro.
Actually, his populist uprising springs from multicultural grass
roots that pre-date the foreign invasion of the Americas that
began in 1492.
Like four-fifths of
Venezuelans, Chavez was born of poor Black and Indian parents.
Since the days of Columbus descendants of the Spanish
conquistadores who supplied the governing classes of the
Americas, have denied indiginous people a say in their future.
Chavez represents a strong challenge.
Chavez is not only proud of
his biracial legacy, but has begun to use oil revenues to help
the poor of all colors improve their education and economic
standing. He also flatly rejects Bush administration efforts to
isolate Cuba, counts Castro a friend, and has repeatedly accused
the US of meddling in his country and around the world.
Chavez rules a country where
three percent of the population, mostly of white European
descent, own 77% of the land. In recent decades millions of
hungry peasants have drifted into Caracas and other cities, and
live in barrios of cardboard shacks and open sewers. Chavez has
begun to transfer fields from giant unused or abandoned
haciendas to peasant hands, and as landlords have responded with
howls of alarm, he has promised further distributions.
But he has repeatedly held out
an olive branch to his foes. He recently stated, "All this stuff
about Chavez and his hordes coming to sweep away the rich, it's
a lie. We have no plan to hurt you. All your rights are
guaranteed, you who have large properties or luxury farms or
Chavez has begun to target the
foreign oil giants who keep about 84% of Venezuela’s oil
profits. To attack the problems of his people in health,
illiteracy and poverty, he has demanded 30%.
In 1998 and 2000 Chavez won
the Presidency by majorities Republicans and Democrats here can
only dream about. In 2002 he defeated a two-day coup attempt
engineered by his local elite in alliance with US interests, and
in the recent recall vote, 90% of voters turned out. Chavez’s
strength rests with his poorest citizens who have mobilized
behind a broader agenda than his, one which includes
participatory democracy and elevating the status of women.
Using rising oil revenues,
Chavez has brought education to almost a million children who
never sat in a classroom. And with 10,000 Cuban doctors, a gift
from Fidel Castro, he has opened 11,000 medical clinics
primarily in barrios.
Over the centuries South
Americans have endured a crop of caudillos, or military
dictators. Many who began office sounding a radical note were
overthrown by the CIA or other instruments of foreign
governments. Others remained in power by listening to American
ambassadors. Though it is too early to tell, this former
paratrooper seems to spring from an earlier age when Africans
and Indians united to fight the first European invaders, and
then continued the struggle for self-determination by political
For inspiration Chavez can
reach back to the misty dawn of the foreign landings when heroic
Black Indian ancestors first rose to battle colonialism. In 1819
Simon Bolivar, of African and Indian lineage and the victorious
revolutionary leader of South America, became the first elected
President of Venezuela. Vicente Guerrero, a guerilla General in
the Mexican Revolution helped liberate his country from Spain.
Though the ruling elite denounced him as a “triple-blooded
outsider,” in 1829 he became Mexico’s first Black Indian
President, wrote its constitution, emancipated its slaves, ended
racial discrimination and banished the death penalty.
Though his white foes also
denounce Chavez as a racial outsider, the faces of his millions
of supporters refute the claim. He continues to triumph at the
polls, speak truth to power, and use oil revenues to meet his
peoples’ needs. He appears unconcerned that he has excited the
fury of the giant to the north, and at times seems to relish
Time will tell if Chavez’s
programs and supporters can protect him from the machinations of
his US enemies allied with his foes at home. Venezuelians have
begun their own cultural revolution, and though it undergirds
Chavez’s political and economic advances, it may take some
Hugo Chavez and his people may
yet write another chapter in the audacious book begun by Simon
Bolivar, Vicente Guerrero and millions of other Venezuelan
Africans and Indians.